It might be you one day

All over Gujarat (and in other parts of India that I have visited), I have seen wild creatures being fed in urban areas. Wild dogs are offered biscuits and other scraps. Pigeons and crows are given grain and water, often in special feeding and drinking vessels. Cattle are fed foliage at Hindu temples, and so on.

When I asked someone about this very prevalent public animal feeding, he told me that all of it was due to members of the Jain communities. I was unsure about the accuracy of this response. So, I asked other people about it. One autorickshaw driver in Ahmedabad, a Muslim, assured us that it was not just the Jains who care for the untamed creatures in the city; everyone cared for these animals.

Recently, when visiting a mosque in the centre of Ahmedabad, I spotted three bowls filled with clean water in front of the 15th century masjid. I asked a caretaker what purpose these bowls served. He pointed at the pigeons roosting high up in niches and balconies on the facade of the mosque.

Now, a fanciful idea entered our minds. If you believe in reincarnation, then there is every reason to care for all creatures. For example, that pigeon enjoying grain on one of the many pigeon coops, which can be seen in Ahmedabad and other cities in Gujarat, might be a reincarnation of your great aunt. More worryingly, it might be you or me, who will be reincarnated as a wild dog or maybe a wild pussy cat.

If you do believe in reincarnation or do not totally disbelieve in it, it is best to play safe and look after the urban wildlife around you. You never know, but it might be you one day!

Now, you might object to the above by saying that Muslims and Christians do not believe in reincarnation. And, you will not be wrong. Now I will make a wild conjecture. Many of today’s Indian Muslims and Christians had Hindu ancestors, all of whom believed in reincarnation. Is it not faintly possible that a trace of this belief might not have been inherited by their non Hindu descendants? And, if I am right, might this help to explain the care for animals that is exhibited by members of all of the great religions of India? I am only “thinking aloud”, as my late father in law used to say when he was suggesting something that did not meet with the family’s approval.

Ganesh in the graveyard

One Tree Hill Garden is a luxuriant little park on the shore of Kankaria Lake in Ahmedabad. At one end of the park, there is a small graveyard. The graves, which date back to the 17th century, mark the final resting places of some of the Dutch folk who worked in the trading post that the Dutch East India Company established in Ahmedabad at that time.

The graves are crumbling and most of them have lost their inscriptions. A few stones bear the incomplete remains of now barely legible inscriptions.

In about 2000, a Dutch foundation constructed several attractive Islamic looking concrete shelters over some of the gravestones.

I noticed that someone had placed a plastic model of the Hindu deity Ganesh next to one of the dilapidated graves. We showed this to a couple of the garden’s workers, one a Hindu and the other a Muslim, and mentioned that this is a Christian grave.

The Hindu gardener said that whoever had put the Ganesh there had good intentions, but did not understand what he was doing. My wife said that it did not matter because all people respect the same God and Hindus include Jesus as one of their own. The Hindu nodded in agreement. The Muslim looked doubtful.

The Muslim gardener was reassured when my wife suggested that Christianity and Islam share some common roots.

As we left these two fellows, my wife said she could hardly imagine having theological discussions with gardeners in a public garden in England.

Weaving in Patan

Many people visit Patan in Gujarat to see the spectacular pre 14th century Rani ki Vav, one of the largest stepwells in the state. It was built by the Solanki dynasty.

Patan is also the home of a very special form of weaving called ‘Double Ikat Patola’. The fabrics produced are extremely durable, very colourfast, and display the pattern equally on the front and reverse.

When finished, even the experienced weaver cannot tell which surface of the material is front, and which is back. The textiles are woven to form saris. These are very costly and take many months to manufacture. The method of fabricating this kind of cloth is so complicated that, despite much research, no one has been able to produce a machine to replicate the process that has been done by hand for many centuries in the workshops in Patan.

We were very fortunate to have been shown around one of Patan’s three Patola factories by a member of the Salvi caste, who specialise in Patola making. Although we were given lengthy explanations and demonstrations, I cannot say that I fully understand the complicated process of making a piece of Patola material. However, I will try to explain what I understood of it.

Patola fabrics are woven using the best quality silk thread. That from Japan is preferred, but silk from China, Korea, and Brazil is also considered of sufficiently high quality.

The design for the fabric is chosen and transferred onto graph paper. This coloured diagram will guide the workers towards the desired end product.

Sari length arrays of silk threads are stretched onto frames. These parallel lengths of white or slightly yellow undyed silk are marked with a fine washable black marker to create a grid pattern like graph paper. This will allow the workers to transfer the colour scheme from the coloured diagram to the silk threads.

Next, using the master plan, sections of each thread are wrapped tightly with another thread, which will prevent dye from reaching the covered section. When this laborious task is complete, the whole lattice of parallel threads is dipped into a dye of one colour, say for example red.

After the first dyeing, the lattice is restretched, and all of the dye restricting threads are removed, resulting in a lattice work of threads coloured with stretches of red and white. Let us assume that the next colour on the master pattern is to be green. The stretched silk fibres are then tied with dye restricting threads in all places except where the master pattern dictates there should be green. After dyeing in green dye, the restricters are removed and the process repeated to add yet another colour to the silk. The end result is a set of silk threads with sequences of different colours, a bit like a single strand of DNA or the amino acids in a strand of protein.

A single thread of silk displaying areas dyed in different colours

The weaving takes place on looms that hang at an angle. Both the warp and the weft fibres have been tie dyed as described already. When stretched on the loom the as yet unwoven warp threads, when viewed together, display part of the final pattern.

The weft threads pass between the warp threads in a sequence that is dictated by the master pattern. As the weavers press the woven weft fibres together, the sequences of different colours on each thread begin to reveal the required design of the fabric. The prescribed pattern develops gradually, thread by thread.

How the correct sequence of the dyed threads is maintained during the many stages prior to weaving must involve miraculous organization.

Because of the fastness of the dyes used, the Patola fabric does not fade. The method of weaving results in a fully reversible fabric, which is very durable . The other advantages of such a labour intensive and complicated fabrication process elude my comprehension.Nevertheless, Double Ikat Patola saris are greatly prized and highly priced.

A zoo in Ahmedabad

I was very keen to visit the Kamla Nehru Zoo in Ahmedabad. I had read much about it in a fascinating book, The Book of Esther, by the Ahmedabad author Esther David. She was born into a Beni Israel Jewish family. Her father Reuben David, a self taught veterinarian and keen naturalist, established the zoo on the shore of Lake Kankaria in 1951. The lake is man made and dates from the mid 15th century.

You can explore the zoo on foot or, for a modest fee, you can be driven around it in an electric vehicle. The driver stops wherever you wish and also helpfully draws your attention to cages and enclosures containing interesting creatures. Some of the cages look quite old and a little cramped, but the enclosures are quite spacious.

The reptile house contains a series of generously large enclosures housing snakes, both venomous and not.

Recently, a new part of the zoo has been built a little way around the lake, separated from the original establishment. The new part is called ‘Nocturnal Zoo’. Barely lit corridors connect poorly illuminated cages. Once your eyes have adapted to the darkness, you can view animals who are usually most active at night. Some of these animals seemed to enjoy sleeping in the artificial night. Others, including various bats and beautiful owls and some jackals, were fully awake. The Nocturnal Zoo is well designed and, I hope, would have met with the approval of the very creative Reuben David.

Shaking minarets

A pair of minarets is all that remains of a mosque. They stand within the precincts of the main railway station of Ahmedabad. The rest of the mosque was destroyed long ago.

Apart from being attractive, these two minarets, the SHAKING MINARETS, are special. They are able to resist earthquakes. They shake or swing instead of falling to pieces during seismic activity.

The large Jumma Masjid in the heart of Ahmedabad lost its two mighty minarets as a result of movements of the earth long ago.

No one knows why the Shaking Minarets are able to resist seismic disturbances. They are not the only minarets in the city that have this ability. When, long ago, British investigators took one of this kind of minaret to pieces, they were unable to discover the secret of its stability. They were also unable to reassemble the structure properly.

Some suggest that the Shaking Minarets are of Persian design and that their stability has something to do with the sand in their foundations.

I cannot offer an explanation, but would like to make an observation. The Shaking Minarets are constructed with brick like stones that are well separated from each other by something like mortar. Most other minarets that I have seen are made with close-fitting blocks of stone, with minimal gaps between them.

Back in the 1980s, a very violent storm hit the southeast of England, where I was living. As the storm buffeted my house, I could feel it swinging from side to side. I feared it might fall down, but it did not. The house, like the Shaking Minarets, was built of bricks separated from each other by mortar. I felt that the stability of my house was due the fact that the latticework of bricks and mortar gave its walls a flexibility, which absorbed and reduced the impact of the forces hitting it. Maybe, it is the mortar between the brick like stones of the Shaking Minarets that allows them to disperse the seismic energy and by so doing causes them to swing rather than collapse.

I am no engineer. I am just ‘thinking aloud’, but as no one can yet explain the ability of these minarets to resist destruction, I offer the above.

Better on a camel

Inspired by seeing camels in Gujarat…

yamey

While travelling through Gujarat in western India, I have seen many camels (? dromedaries) working as beasts of burden. They are well suited to the arid semi desert climate of Gujarat. The camels remind me of airline jokes I learnt in my childhood. Each joke gives another meaning to an airline’s name or acronym.

BEA was British European Airways. The joke version was Big Empty Aeroplanes;

TAP, Portuguese Airlines became Take Another Plane;

The Greek company Olympic became Only Like Your Money Pay In Cash;

EL AL, the airline of Israel, became Every Landing Always Late.

And this brings me to humped beasts of burden.

BOAC, which was British Overseas Airways Corporation, became Better On A Camel.

Postscript

When the petroleum company ESSO first became established in India, workers in Indian companies worked half day on Saturdays. Esso workers got a whole day off on Saturdays. So, ESSO became known…

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Death on the tracks

A true but horrible story … A cautionary tale

yamey

This is a true story told to me by the man who took the upper berth on a train in India’s Uttar Pradesh state.

Our friend, who related this story, was boarding a sleeper car. He had reserved the lower berth in a compartment, but when he reached it, he found it occupied by a man who had not made a reservation. The man aggressively refused to budge from our friend’s berth. Our friend called the conductor. After a considerable and unpleasant argument, the miscreant relinquished the berth, which our friend then occupied.

Shortly after this, an old man, who had been given a reservation in the upper berth, entered the compartment. He was unable to climb into the upper berth. Out of kindness, our friend took the old man’s upper berth and gave him the lower one.

Next morning, our friend woke up. He climbed down from his upper…

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A useful book

If you are planning to visit Ahmedabad or even if you live there, here is a really useful pocket sized book to get to know the city better.

Published in 2017, A Walking Tour. Ahmedabad is by M van Oostrum and G Bracken. Easy to follow walks take you through the history of Ahmedabad. If you do not wish to follow the walks, this is no problem because the book is well indexed. The book is illustrated with lovely delicate line drawings.

I bought my copy at the excellent bookshop at the Gandhi Ashram on the bank of the Sabarmati, where I was charged 595 Rupees. If you buy it in Europe or the USA, expect to pay far more!

I strongly recommend this book as a very readable and practical guide to the endlessly fascinating city of Ahmedabad.

ISBN 9789385360176

Published by Mapin in Ahmedabad

Winter in Bhavnagar

Bhavnagar is a very pleasant, but less visited, city in Gujarat’s Saurashtra peninsula. Close to the sea, it was established by the Gohil dynasty in the 18th century

We arrived in Bhavnagar in late January 2019 after spending a week in Baroda. The weather in Baroda was warm (29 to 31) degrees Celsius and we need to use air conditioning even in the evenings.

Here in Bhavnagar there are cooling breezes. The daytime temperature is extremely pleasant. At midday, the temperature hit a high of 24. At night, the air becomes distinctly chilly even for someone used to British weather. Air conditioning is not required at all at the moment. Locals dress up warmly with heavy outer clothing and warm head gear.

Straying away from meteorology, Bhavnagar has a very friendly climate. People are friendly, humorous, and helpful.

To exemplify the above, let me tell you about one incident. My wife and I were ordering tea at a roadside chaiwalla stand. A man sitting close by waved a banknote at us and insisted on paying for our tea. As he did so, he said in Gujarati:

“You are our guests in Bhavnagar “.

This kind of behaviour is typical of the welcoming folks in Bhavnagar.

Tiny clothes

In markets throughout Gujarat, I have seen shops selling elaborately made miniature clothes, which are often too small to fit the tiniest of human children. At first, I thought that these were toy clothes to dress dolls. But, I was mistaken.

A man selling these tiny garments explained to me that they are for dressing the idols of deities in Hindu shrines. The picture above, taken in central Vadodara, shows such a deity clothed with one of these miniature outfits.